(London Telegraph) There were fears last week that Mali’s rebels had destroyed thousands of Timbuktu’s manuscripts – although it later emerged that the vast majority had been carefully hidden in homes. Still, some of the priceless documents were burnt or damaged in the chaos. The manuscripts are an invaluable record, says a scholar who has researched them.

“Thus did they choose the location of this virtuous, pure, undefiled and proud city, blessed with divine favour, a healthy climate, and [commercial] activity. It is a…. refuge of scholarly and righteous folk, a haunt of saints and ascetics, and a meeting place of caravans and boats”.

This was Timbuktu in the words of Abdurrahman al-Sadi, an administrator born in the city who became its historian. Timbuktu was already past its pinnacle of 16th century glory when he wrote a century later but it was still one of the wonders of the world, a centre of learning in the Sahara desert at a crossing point for caravan trade routes – slaves and gold went north, while salt went south.

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